Friday, March 7, 2008

Political age limits: How old is too old to serve?

Now that Kenya’s political leaders found a political solution to the post-election crisis, Robert Chutha would like to see political backing for an age limit for presidential and parliamentary candidates.

Writing in the Daily Nation from Nairobi.

As constitutional amendments become the focus in the near future, Kenya should definitely borrow a leaf from Benin, whose constitution sets the age limit for presidential candidates at 70. I would strongly recommend that 65 years be the age limit for both presidential and parliamentary candidates in Kenya.

The retirement age for civil servants is 55 years. If we give our presidents and MPs 10 more years, it is only fair that they quickly achieve their goals for the country, then gracefully bow out and go home to take care of their own affairs.

…There is life after presidency. Retirement of a president does not mean that he goes home to herd goats, though that is an option for the willing.

Let our ageing leaders realise that they have a role to play in advocacy on the very grave issues facing Africa today, including HIV and Aids, conflict mediation and peace-building.

Good luck. It’s an interesting point and an much needed debate. People around the world are living longer and enjoying healthier retirement years. There are people who will always argue that experience trumps youthfulness and energy in politics (although I am not so sure, myself).

Look at the United States. There you have John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, who will be 72 years old in August. Robert Byrd, in the U.S. Senate since January 1959, is currently 90. Strom Thurmond served in the same body until he was 100 before retiring in 2002. (He died a few months later.) In the House of Representatives since 1980, Ralph Hall from Texas is now 85.

Of course, African politics are different than the States. On the continent, a lot of long-time rulers are now entering their second decade in power, and those people are no longer spring chickens. In Burkina Faso, rumors are currently circulating that President Blaise Compoare (in power since 1987) is ill with prostate problems. The question that raises, of course, is if he is sick, how well can he manage the complicated affairs of the state. (It’s a credible question to an aging John McCain in the U.S. as it was to the ill Fidel Castro in Cuba.)

I personally like the idea of African emeritus leaders playing a role in many different issues. Maybe I am naïve, but even the most power hungry of ruler, wherever his/her provenance, has some desire to serve country or continent. Africa’s retired elite could begin working on solving conflicts and providing a source of inspiration for the future. It reminds of the Paul Theroux tale where an old friend who is a government minister in Malawi (I think) begged Theroux to send his children to Africa to help build the continent while his own children are mostly educated in the West, where they now live and work. Warning, unbridled sanctimoniousness ahead: At some point, it’s time to give back.

I would say if presidents can respect constitutional term limits, they can serve well in their senior years, providing they remain healthy and alert. But, those attempting to make constitutional changes to increase the number of term limits should be booted out the door, no matter what age they are.

1 comment:

Kashuna Andre "gifted" said...

i am an angolan but not jornalist so i do not have much time to do deep reaserch in any issue that i publish in my blog. i have been thinking about the aging leardership in our continent and decided to write any article on the age and how long have the current african presindent and benchmark it with other continents leardship and it is what brought me to your blog can you help?

bellow is me blog address and my e-mail if you show up please leave a comment so that i will now. i do post in portugues.
Kashuna Andre "Gifted"